Vespatian, after securing Galilee and part of the Trans-Jordan, was preparing to march on John’s Jerusalem when word of Nero’s death put the entire campaign on ice. Robert Eisenman writes, “In the midst of the war in Judea, Nero is assassinated. Among those accused of having a hand in this would appear to be Paul’s associate Epaphroditus, a man whom he called ‘his brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier’, an ‘Apostle’ (Phil. 2:25), and who, Josephus tells us, had ‘participated in many important events’.” “It would be difficult to conceive that this ‘Epaphroditus’ could be anyone other than Nero’s own secretary by the same name, who was later blamed by Domitian for killing or, at least, helping Nero to kill himself.” (James the Brother of Jesus, pp 791, 528) Julius Caesar had much earlier been ostracized by the Roman Senate, but went on to ever-greater glory. Nero would not get the chance to imitate the founder of his dynasty and renew that dynasty in the eyes of the people.
Considering that Paul spoke of Ephaphroditus as “his Apostle”, we must suspect that Nero’s fall came partly from a Herodian conspiracy against him, but which faction? His demise was perhaps the only event that could save the Palestine liberation movement. Ironically, it was also the only hope of King Agrippa, whose kingdom was being willfully sabotaged by Nero. No doubt Roman Senators would have been appalled to learn of Nero’s toying with Palestine, which was over and above all his other malfeasance - and enough so to bring the illustrious Julio-Augustan dynasty to ignominious end. An earth-shattering power struggle seemed inevitable, not only between the great ones who sought to found a new imperial dynasty, but also with those who might favor a return of the Republic.
“The Household of Aristobulus”
“Paul also refers to Epaphroditus in Phillipians 2:27 as at one point having been sick and near death. The reference to him in connection with the ‘household of Caesar’ in Phillipians 4:22 makes it virtually certain we are speaking about the same person as the Epaphroditus just described above. One should note the parallel reference to ‘those of [the household] of Aristobulous’ in Romans 16:11 and ‘the littlest Herod’ in 16:13. Herod of Chalcis’ son Aristobulous was certainly very close to Claudius, since the latter not only conferred upon him the Kingdom of Lower Armenia, but also the title of ‘Friend’. (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p 639)
Aristobulous, as has been shown, was the Herodian identity of “Jesus Christ” and the half-brother of Saul/Paul (Saulus/Phasaelus son of Antipater). His good standing in Rome along with his possible son Herodion, “the littlest Herod,” as well as their residence there should then not come as a complete surprise. The “ascension” of Jesus after his “resurrection” from apparent death was associated with an appointment to kingship within the Herodian family. This occurred first in Chalcis of Syria and again later in Armenia. His promised “coming in glory” evidently referred to his expected election to the greater throne of his grandfather Herod over all Israel. This of course would have required the disgrace of the Hasmonean line of Agrippa II by edict of Rome, or the overthrow of Rome itself.
The first attack in the Uprising against Roman troops was very curiously led by Monobazus king of Edessa and his kinsman Kenedaeos, who both are said to have lost their lives in the fray. They had been joined by Niger the Perean and Silas the Babylonian, who survived this battle but were killed later that year in the fighting. Robert Eisenman reasonably concludes that despite the regional associations given them by Josephus, all these commanders were “Herodian Men-of-War.” Ultra-nationalistic Jews would not have followed true foreigners in the Revolt. In fact, Josephus confirms that the kings of Armenia were Jewish. A speech given by Agrippa II to the people warns them not to put hope in these brethren from across the Euphrates, nor in Parthians further afield.
The Romans in 53 B.C. suffered one of their most humiliating defeats when Agbarus king of Edessa lured the General and Triumvir Cressus and his army directly into the fire of Parthian archers. The Romans in 66 A.D. under Cestius allowed themselves to be ambushed by another king of Edessa, Monobazus, in order to bait the Jews into a larger conflict, one in which they could not win but only be destroyed. Josephus reports that the people of Roman cities from Alexandria in Egypt to Tyre in Syria were encouraged to murder Jews living among them, causing many to flee and join the Revolt. This was then a premeditated holocaust aimed at decimating the Jewish population and its nobility to pave the way for a new ruling family, that of Aristobulus and his heirs.
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.